If you were to ask me who my favorite character is from the "Shrek" films, I would have to say Gingy, the Gingerbread Man. Apart from getting a kick out of his hilariously exaggerated voice, I've always had a certain fondness for him; he's so small, and yet he's capable of doing big things, like defiantly telling Lord Farquaad to eat him and then spitting into his eye. And believe you me, no other character could have delivered the line, "We're up Chocolate Creek without a popsicle stick!" But don't get me wrong, I like Puss in Boots a great deal. How can anyone not like him? He's an adorable orange cat with a cool swashbuckling getup and a magnetic Spanish voice. It's no wonder to me that he's the star of his own spin off film. While it gave me nothing new as far as family-friendly animated comedies go, "Puss in Boots" is bright, beautifully rendered, and just plain fun.
I used the word "bright." Let me make it clear that I'm referring to the film's tone. Had I been smart and seen it in 2D, then maybe the word would have had double meaning. But no, I had to see it in picture-dimming 3D, which was not immersive so much as it was assaulting. It begins the instant the film starts; the boy on the DreamWorks Animation logo takes his fishing rod and swings it around like a whip, causing the line to snap directly at our faces. There are many moments like that in this movie, which may account for why it contains more than its fair share of action. One sequence has Puss running across rooftops, through windows, and between alleyways; the problem is that much of it is seen from his perspective, so the objects that constantly zoom past do nothing but blur our field of vision.
But I'm just rehashing my usual complaints about the 3D process, which I'm sure you're tired of at this point. Let's move on. The CGI is impressive, the characters are appealing, and the plot is serviceable for both children and adults alike. Although the location has shifted from the forests of Far Far Away to a costal Mexican village, making it more of an animated western parody, the film is very much a fantasy, and like the "Shrek" films, it pokes fun at characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales. There is, of course, Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) – suave and seductive, less a figure of children's literature and more a feline reboot of Zorro. Exclusive to this story: Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), who must supply at least one egg-related pun ("I'll tell you this: It ain't over easy!"); and Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), murderous thugs built like hulking trolls. The idea of them procreating is just shy of nauseating, hence the joke that they always talk about starting a family.
The story involves Puss and Humpty reteaming after years of being apart. I will not divulge the specifics of their separation, except that they were raised as brothers in a local orphanage. Together, they plot to steal three magic beans from Jack and Jill, climb the gigantic beanstalk to a castle in the clouds, and find the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. Tagging along is a new character, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Selma Hayek), a master pickpocket and Puss' inevitable love interest. They meet under circumstances common in action films: He fights under the incorrect assumption that she was a man. Well, that isn't quite true; they don't fight so much as dance competitively. Only in a cartoon world can you successfully blend martial arts with flamenco.
Apart from the bold visual style, I took notice of Henry Jackman's score, skillfully composed in the style of Hollywood westerns. You probably know the sound I'm talking about – trumpets, castanets, Spanish guitars, and whistling comprise the bulk of the orchestra throughout much of the movie. I found it very infectious, especially during the aforementioned dance sequence. More dancing is reserved for the start of the end credits. You'll appreciate this if you're a cat owner, as I am; rows of cats "dance" by playing with spots of light moving on the floor in perfect unison. I can personally attest to the fact that cats are very easily distracted by random points of light. God help me if I use a flashlight or laser pointer in my house.
I digress. I cannot sit here and say that "Puss in Boots" is the year's best animated film, because it most definitely isn't. But the long and short of it is, it achieved everything it wanted to achieve, and I certainly enjoyed watching it. Here is a film children won't mind watching and parents won't mind taking them to see – provided, of course, that they can save the extra money and see it in standard 2D. I wouldn't blame them for making that decision. If they're paying your way in, they deserve the privilege of a bright picture, bold colors, and scenes that don't have swords and cats flying out at you. I would wager kids would like it better that way, too. And now that this film has been made, I think it would be a good idea for the "Shrek" people to tell a story based on Gingy. I just love that guy, don't you?
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
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